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Scapegoating Craigslist Is Not Going to Solve the Problem of Underage Prostitution

For years, politicians have gone after Craigslist for ads promoting sex trafficking and prostitution. At best their efforts are misguided, and may even exacerbate the problem.

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This ad offers “greek” in exchange for 100 “kisses” in the ad title (Craigslist reviewers reject such ads):
♥ ♥ SexY EXxXOTiC BuSTii B@RB!E (( g/r/3/3/k)) ♥ ♥ 100 kisses - 21

The following ad, if submitted to CL’s review team, would have been reported to NCMEC’s cybertipline:
** I JuST TuRNeD 18 YeSTeRDaYY** FiNaLLY LeGal - 18
my parents are at work and im all alone jus waiting for someone to cum inside and invade my young, barely legal, juicy, suculant love nest. 

In addition to the many steps the site has taken to discourage illegal postings (Buckmaster has listed their policies here) Craigslist helps law enforcement by creating the opportunity for stings that have helped take down human trafficking operations.

As Valleywag   pointed out during the Sheriff Thomas Dart's lawsuit, Dart's department used Craigslist to bust a prostitution ring, leading to the arrests of 254 women and men. Komo news reported that Everett Washington's Vice Squad depends on Craigslist to help find and arrest sex workers. All officers have to do is answer the ads, set up a meeting and make an arrest if sex for money is offered. A Canadian police chief has said that his regularly uses Craigslist to investigate ads they find suspicious, leading to stings that find girls as young as 15-16 being pimped out.

In an open letter Buckmaster pointed out that dropping the adult services section would actually hurt more than help curb illegal activity: "For the sake of rescuing victims and prosecuting criminals, is it really a good idea to eliminate the only venue for adult service ads that is highly responsive to law enforcement? The only venue that seeks out nonprofit groups and readily adopts their suggestions?"

Scapegoating Is Not the Answer

Blaming Craigslist for the problem takes those responsible for fixing the problem off the hook. Political opportunists of every stripe go after Craigslist because it is an international brand with instant recognition, and the corporate media tends to salivate when it comes to stories about sex and law breaking related to Craigslist.

It is hard to understand how people think that coming down on Craigslist or having them eliminate their adult personals will solve sex trafficking. Unless more resources are invested in making life difficult for the johns who use underage prostitutes, and until heavy heat comes down on the pimps who seduce, manipulate, and sometimes kidnap young girls and make them perform against their will, this problem will grow. That is where the focus, the energy, and the resources must be applied.

If public officials don't target the abusers more aggressively, or intervene with the kids, nothing will change. Craigslist is only the intermediary, as are all personal ads. Does anyone really think if there was no Craigslist, suddenly child prostitution will go away? Not likely. With the large amounts of profit in play, there will always be a marketing, advertising, communication strategy to match the supply with the demand. In the end, primarily going after Craigslist probably makes the pimps very happy.

Full disclosure: AlterNet was the recipient of one general support contribution from Craigslist in 2009. Don Hazen is the executive editor of AlterNet.

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